Updated: Mar 15, 2022
The metaverse, will have an impact on everyone in the years to come. Like the Internet and smartphones in the 1990s and 2000s, it will soon become the new normal. Even more than previous innovations, this development will affect people, society and the economy like an unstoppable tsunami. Understanding what this exciting immersive world has to offer and understanding some of the wrong assumptions will give you an edge in the future.
Misconception #1: The metaverse is new
October 2021 , Marc Zuckerberg announced ‘his’ Meta with much noise. According to him, the new Internet would not only be entered through shiny square screens, but it would become an immersive and embodied platform where you would enter the experience and not just look at it. For many of us, that was a futuristic statement, but in reality it was mainly a promo stunt to revive the decay of Facebook. Zucherberg was nothing more than a copycat, cleverly capitalising on a trend started decades earlier by Neal Stephenson, who introduced the Metaverse in his 1992 science fiction novel Snow Crash. Facebook, now Meta, is also far from unique as a provider. Many other companies have been building the Metaverse for years and they are often much further ahead.
Already in 2003, Linden Lab launched Second Live, where users can create virtual representations of themselves in a 3D world. In Second Live a virtual economy exists with its own virtual currency, the Linden Dollar, which is exchangeable with real world currency. Today Second Live is perhaps less popular than the game developer Epic Games of Fortnite and other Meta worlds like Roblox, Microsoft and Upland. These hyper-real alternative worlds offer opportunities to combine living, working and learning with technologies such as augmented reality, virtual reality, 3D holographic avatars and video with NFLs and blockchain. Bringing these new digital innovations together creates unprecedented combinations that offer possibilities beyond our imagination.
Misconception #2: The metaverse is real today
Virtual worlds that we enter through advanced VR and AR glasses or a Hololens are indeed nothing new. Yet these immersive worlds are not the Metaverse everyone is suddenly talking about.
At the heart of the Metaverse is the vision of an immersive Internet as a vast, unified, persistent, and shared realm. It is a new and radically transformative medium, enabled by major innovations in hardware, human-computer interface, network infrastructure, creator tools and digital economies. While the worlds and access to them may be in distant development, the connecting universe is still in its infancy. To create a truly connected and attractive universe, or Metaverse, we need quantum computing, mature blockchain technology, stable cryptocurrencies and protocols around NFTs. Building a complete, decentralised virtual world, one with its own economic systems, takes time and risks that we must take into account.
This Metaverse will become far more pervasive and powerful than anything else. If one central corporation gains control of this, they will become more powerful than any government and be a god on Earth.
Tim Sweeney, CEO Epic Games
If the above seems confusing, you can understand it by comparing the Metaverse to the Internet and worlds, such as Roblox, with sites. These sites are currently often referred to as worlds, spaces, environments, nodes or zones. So the sites are already there, but connecting the internet to surf from one site to another is the challenge.
Misconception #3: The metaverse will not replace the real world
From the above, it seems that the Metaverse mainly lives in the world of gamers and that a game cannot replace the real world. I may not have a crystal ball, but I like to make the comparison with the e-commerce business, which is increasingly replacing physical shops, and that those who do not go along with these new worlds may be making a big mistake.
Since 2020, there has been much more appeal to the promises of the Metaverse. That this was triggered by the worldwide successive lockdowns should come as no surprise. More and more people started looking for immersive experiences to compensate for the lack of 'real' experiences. Social games like Fortnite quickly became the 'meeting place' for millions. In 2020, artists such as Ariana Grande and Travis Scott swapped concert halls for a virtual stage in Fortnite, with enormous success. The latter managed to attract 48.5 million visitors with five concerts, and deals were made with major fashion brands such as Balenciaga and Nike Jordan's. Yes, even in the virtual world you get into skins (clothes) of famous brands to get noticed. And make no mistake, some of these NFT (non-fungible tokens) are more expensive than the real thing in the shop.
Not only 'trendy' sectors are keeping their eyes open for the new possibilities that Metaworlds have to offer. For example, there are opportunities for the logistics and agriculture sectors that are looking at combinations of Upland (real estate as NFT) and Earth Map for efficiency and new business models. These opportunities may not have applications for the general public, but meetings and communications will look very different with the promises of new immersive experiences such as Microsoft Mesh. This new experience, although not a sustainable metaworld due to its temporary nature, will be launched in 2022. It will combine mixed-reality capabilities, allowing people in different physical locations to participate in collaborative and shared holographic experiences.
Combine the above technological innovations with more permanent worlds, which may one day transform into a single Metaverse, and learning in the future may become a totally new experience. For example, consider blockchain for the validation of Roblox University. This unofficial university is dedicated to building the next generation of great game developers. Students from all over the world are already finding their way to create digital experiences. An interesting development when you know that over 50% of all children under 16 in the US are already creators in the virtual world of Roblox.
With the speed of innovation we have seen since 2020, the Metaverse is no longer just a hype. Connecting the worlds is the next big step and companies and policy makers around the world will now have to prepare or be left behind to pick up the pieces.